All of Madonna’s 14 solo albums ranked: from ‘Madame X’ to 'Like A Prayer'

As the queen of pop music gets ready to celebrate 40 years in the business, we take a look at her ground-breaking career

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To celebrate Madonna's 40 years in the music industry in 2022, a massive multi-year campaign will launch to remind us why the Material Girl will go down in history as one of pop music's greatest artists.

The campaign, running until 2025, kicks off next year, to mark the 40th anniversary of Madonna's debut 1982 single, Everybody.

It will then move on to include the releases of "deluxe editions" of all 14 solo albums, in addition to live albums and compilations.

Madonna will creatively oversee all the releases, and new material is promised as part of special events.

To whet the appetite, let’s examine all of Madonna’s solo albums and where they stand in her ground-breaking career.

14. ‘American Life’ (2003)

To be fair, even Madonna's worst albums are considered a solid offering when compared to other artists. But since we are used to the Material Girl dictating music trends for the best part of four decades, we do hold her to a higher standard.

Why American Life is ultimately a dud is because it never matched its ambitions. With songs bearing grand titles such as Hollywood and the eponymous track, Madonna wanted an album to capture the US national mood.

Instead, what we got is light mix of fluffy folk, pop and electronica with pseudo spiritual messages failing to resonate.

By the way, the less we say about her awful rapping in Hollywood, the better.

13. ‘MDNA’ (2012)

One of the rare times Madonna sounded like a follower rather than a leader.

While ebullient tracks like I'm Addicted and Girl Gone Wild were club bangers, there is a deflating feeling Madonna was trying to be cool with a younger generation.

This is totally beneath her, such as the lacklustre Give Me All Your Luvin’ – a collaboration with younger pop stars Nicki Minaj and MIA – so amply demonstrates.

12. ‘Hard Candy’ (2008)

Technically this is the kind of superbly produced album we expect from Madonna. But why Hard Candy is so disconcerting is how she takes a back seat throughout the project.

While a generous collaborator, she often ensures guest artists and producers work to fulfil her vision.

Hard Candy's best tracks, such as 4 Minutes and Candy Shop, finds Madonna playing second fiddle to pop underlings like Justin Timberlake. This is unacceptable.

11. ‘Madame X’ (2019)

While some fans claim Madame X as Madonna's worst album, they are mistaken. That realisation will come with time, however, as this vibrant and esoteric album just gets better with age.

For one thing, it is good to hear Madonna doing her own thing as opposed to chasing the pop sounds of the moment.

Madame X is a hard left turn from the pack with tracks inspired by the Portuguese folk form of Fado, electronic chill-out music and in the case of Dark Ballet, Russian classical composer Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Reed Flutes from The Nutcracker ballet.

While not all of the experimentation work, the fact she remains stretching herself, creatively, is reassuring.

10. ‘Rebel Heart’ (2005)

Madonna is often uncompromising in her quest for new creative ground. This is what made Rebel Heart such a welcome surprise upon its release, as she allows herself to look back and freely pilfer from her peak periods of the late 1980s and early 2000s.

The ascending 90s-house keyboards and empowering lyrics of Living for Love recalls the heady vibes of former smash hits Ray of Light and Vogue.

The regal final track Wash All Over Me serves as another fine addition to her underrated collection of ballads.

9. ‘Music’ (2000)

Madonna's fearless streak differentiates her from peers and Music is a prime example. The album came on the back of the commercial success of the brilliant 1998 album Ray of Light, mining those heady club sounds.

Instead, she ditched the sequenced outfits for a cowgirl persona (way before Lady Gaga did it with 2016 album Joanne) for a trippy collection of electro-pop and country folk tracks.

That said, even Madonna knows where her bread is buttered. Hence, the album’s self-titled single, a melange of cutting edge electro-pop and funk that became a monster hit.

8. ‘Madonna’ (1983)

Even though she wowed an unsuspecting public and the music press with futuristic sounds of her eponymous debut album − many of the tracks used the latest gear at the time, like the Linn drum machine and synthesisers like the Moog bass − it took a while for the album to really catch on.

After the muted reception to, otherwise, solid singles Everybody and Burning Up, it was the sun-kissed sounds of Holiday saving the album from being a well-regarded flop to a top 10 hit.

7. ‘Erotica’ (1992)

It's hard to understate how controversial this album was and relatively is.

Released alongside a racy photo book, the tightly coiled collection of pop and dance numbers featuring hits Fever and Deeper and Deeper finds Madonna extolling all matters related to love and sensuality.

Erotica is also home to one of Madonna's most criminally underrated singles, the ethereal beauty that is Rain.

6. ‘Bedtime Stories’ (1994)

While Madonna revelled in heated discussions surrounding Erotica and even embraced the moniker “the queen of obscene,” some of the words cut deep.

While the album is a lush collection of sumptuous ballads and RnB tracks, epitomised by the majestic closer Take a Bow, it is also home to some of Madonna’s most forthright lyrics.

Human Nature and Forbidden Love are a worthy riposte to critics in its defence of female expression and liberation.

With eight million albums sold, Bedtime Stories may be considered as moderately successful by Madonna’s standards but it remains one of her most important creative statements.

5. ‘Confessions on a Dance Floor’ (2005)

While The Material Girl doesn't do apologies, this disco-burning album is as close as it gets as an act of contrition to fans who were dismayed by her woeful previous effort in American Life.

Thankfully, po-faced seriousness of that record was jettisoned for songs that make for a great batch of club ready tracks with sharp hooks and glimmering synths.

Such was her zeal to please that Madonna even sampled ABBA's Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) for the album's biggest hit Hung Up.

Supported by a disco themed world tour, Confessions on a Dance Floor marked a much needed mid-career reset.

4. ‘True Blue’ (1986)

Madonna reached her commercial zenith with this blockbuster. With more than 25 million albums sold, Madonna's third release was the biggest-selling album of the decade by a female artist.

While momentum was certainly on her side, courtesy of the chart-busting success of previous album Like a Virgin (1984), True Blue shines in its own light due to Madonna's first stab at musical and lyrical maturity.

Perhaps as a reaction to uber synthetic sounds dominating the scene and calculated attempt to reach an older audience, True Blue features more natural instrumentations and string sections.

Some of these evocative sounds contemplate some of the more serious subject matter Madonna grapples with, such as the complexity of relationships in the epic ballad Live to Tell and teenage pregnancy and angst in Papa Don’t Preach.

The fact the lyrics were wrapped around some of modern pop music’s most memorable hooks ensured Madonna’s place as one of the world’s biggest stars.

3. ‘Like a Virgin’ (1984)

This was the album that placed Madonna on the map as well as the charts.

After the relatively cool reception to her self-titled debut album the previous year, the singer returned to the studio with super-producer and Chic bassist Nile Rodgers for a ruthlessly focused collection of pop songs.

You will be hard pressed to find fault with the album’s nine tracks, featuring at least three pop classics in the form of Material Girl, the album’s title track and Angel.

2. ‘Ray of Light’ (1998)

Madonna made her impression felt over her four-decade long career by dropping a masterpiece in nearly every decade.

Ray of Light was easily one of the biggest hits of the '90s, pairing some of her most intimate lyrics with maximalist and cinematic production by English producer William Orbit.

Through the intricately layered sounds of the barrelling title track and the squelchy beats and bleeps of Drowned World / Substitute for Love, the album has been widely viewed as taking electronic music from the clubs to the masses.

1. ‘Like A Prayer’ (1989)

The quintessential Madonna album in which she wraps up her first decade in a brilliant summation of the styles and subjects covered so far.

The album bursts out of the gate with back-to-back pop classics Like A Prayer and Express Yourself, a pair distilling the best of Madonna’s pure pop approach and probing lyricism, before digging deeper with the moving Oh Father.

Even the album’s scraps are pure gold, with Cherish featuring her sweetest vocal take to date.

Madonna went on to release more adventurous material, but nothing beats the pure thrills found in this landmark release.

Updated: August 20, 2021, 8:46 AM